The Lessons of 2019

by Gurpreet Sihat

Every day, after journaling and trying to gain some understanding over all the emotions I’ve gone through along the way, I give myself an overall mood rating. For those rare days I get nine, I put a colourful tab in the corner of the page. It’s how I remind myself how great the day can be when I’ve had a bad one. They’re days where I’ve done little else but smile, where my anxiety is low, and where I feel like I can survive anything. Surprisingly, where there have been 53 of these days, there have only been 28 days where I’ve marked my mood as a six or less. That means this year my base levels were sevens and eights. 

I can’t say that this is because there weren’t bad moments in those days. Words that I found I used a lot of in my journals were ‘fearful’, ‘exhausted’ and ‘overwhelmed’. I battled through anxiety, depressive tendencies, tendinitis and anaemia for the majority of them. I was in a car that almost collided with a motorcycle, burning myself with hot coffee and gaining whiplash. I suffered through every tooth-related issue you can imagine, including finding out that I was allergic to certain types of toothpaste and was a rare person who has side effects to anaesthesia. And, perhaps the worst of them all, I developed an ulcer in my eye and almost lost my eyesight. But I was determined to focus on the good parts of the day and not the bad ones and, as a result, itty-bitty annoyances didn’t fester and become big ones. This year, I managed to find some lesson or silver lining to even the most hurtful things that happened. 

But I did learn three valuable lessons which I wanted to share as my final post of 2019.  

“I am honestly constantly impressed at how high functioning you are. It takes a lot to be able to handle all you’ve got to handle and I know plenty of people who would crumble at the thought. Love you so much, and always proud of you for the effort you put into your life, even when it’s the most difficult thing to do.”

ONE: Saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean you don’t care.

This was a big one for me to learn this year, especially as last year I was learning to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity that came my way. Sometimes, it is better to say ‘no’. There were two main situations where I would say ‘no’ to people in 2019. 

The first, was when people from my past contacted me. Now I’m not saying I didn’t accept invitations from ANYONE. I reconnected with five friends from my school days this year, and every conversation with them has been filled with love and laughter and light. But there were a number of people who I didn’t want to reconnect with – Facebook friend requests, random text messages, even one group video call that I refused to join. These were people who immediately sent my anxiety sky rocketing. People who have likely changed in the past few years and may very well deserve chances, but I was not ready or able to give that to them. 

The second, was when people needed to talk. By June, it was becoming clearer that my moods were being affected by other people’s issues and, in turn, I was feeling overwhelmed by everyone’s (bar the postie’s) emotions. So, I started to be vocal about how much I could handle and how much I couldn’t. “I care about how you feel, but I’m currently feeling anxious and unstable and I can’t help you right now.” “I’m really sorry, but I’ve got a deadline and I can’t give you the attention you deserve at the minute.” “Though I can listen to you, this really isn’t my area of expertise. Perhaps you should talk to so-and-so.” You can’t look after everyone, no matter how much you want to. You definitely can’t look after them at detriment to yourself. Sometimes, saying ‘no’ is what’s best for both parties involved. 

“I love how uplifting you are. I’ve never received a message from you that didn’t make me smile, and you seem to always have something positive to say.” 

TWO: Listen to your gut instincts, no matter what.

Speaking of saying ‘yes’, I said ‘yes’ to something I wasn’t entirely sure about at the start of 2019. A writing project that made me feel a little awkward but was pushed on me by a client. I put my feelings down to the fact that this would be a second contract with the same person. Would a line be easily drawn here? Would one job blur into the next? 

I had the idea of my story, had researched it, had even started writing it, and then the plan fell through. Money was returned, though not in full, and a few harsh words were exchanged on everyone’s behalf. Soon, I discovered that the person putting the project together was embezzling money. I was lucky to make it out with barely a scratch, but it was still a lesson. Had I listened to my instincts, I would never have been in that position in the first place. 

“Beautiful woman, knowing you’re in the world, pouring love and life into the crazy human race, makes my heart happy.” 

THREE: Shoot the hostage.

This is an old lesson, but one that stuck with me in the final months of the year. In the 1994 action movie, Speed, LAPD Officer Jack Traven is asked a question: “Airport. Gunman with one hostage. He’s using her for cover. He’s almost to the plane. You’re a hundred feet away…” Jack’s answer? “Shoot the hostage. Take her out of the equation. Go for the good wound and he can’t get to the plane with her. Clear shot.” 

I’m not at all suggesting that you shoot your problems, not literally anyway. A problem is rarely one thing. It’s a hundred little things that create the one huge thing you’re dealing with. So, what if you imagine your main problem as the gunman and those hundred little things as hostages? Shoot the hostage. Take everything out of the equation one by one, bit by bit, and eventually that problem, if it’s even there anymore, will be easier to take on. 

The past six months, I have had the worst pains in my mouth. It took about four months to get the courage to speak to my dentist, and I’ve had about six appointments since. I started to list down every possible thing that could be causing the pain: the need for a filling, gum disease, the way I brush my teeth, my toothbrush, the toothpaste I use. One by one, I began shooting them. I don’t need a filling, my dentist checked. I don’t have gum disease, I’m healthy as can be. I bought a new, dentist-approved toothbrush. I use prescription toothpaste. I even bought a mouth guard in case I’m grinding. One by one, I shot the hostages, and that gunman? Gone. 

Shoot the hostage!

“Your writing is always so positive and inspiring, thank you for sharing!” 

As I said in last week’s post, I had a hope that 2019 would be stable, filled with wonder and drama-free. It definitely wasn’t drama-free, but I really did relearn a lot of lessons that I had forgotten over the years. Simple things that I’ve brought into adulthood with me and pushed aside for whatever reason. 

So, I have a new hope for the decade to come. I hope that I will look back in 2029 and see the new ‘20s with the same magic I see the 1920s. Not every day will be perfect. There will be arguments and heartbreak, loss and sorrow. But I hope that I will have a better understanding on how to look after myself - physically, mentally and emotionally – and will put myself first. I hope I will learn new lessons and teach others a thing or two along the way. I hope that there will be something, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant or mundane, that ignites creativity or joy or awe. 

And I wish you all good things in the coming decade, dear reader. I look forward to taking this ride with you! 

Kheri Yam Waka Mpya!

Naya Saal Mubaarak Ho!

Happy New Year!

“Can I just take a minute to appreciate GKSihat? She knows my spooky heart. She gives out so much love, and she deserves some back! Love you…” 

Throughout this post, I’ve slipped in text messages, social media posts and snippets of book acknowledgements that have meant so much to me this year. Often, it’s really difficult to see the impact you have on other people. It causes you to doubt your value. Your worth.

At the end of the year when I found these, I realised how much good I had done this year. How loved I was, even when I felt like there was little point in me being alive. It made me feel like everything bad I was going through, every struggle and tear and anxiety-filled sleepless night, was worthwhile. For these people, I was enough. 

If there is one thing I ask of you all in 2020, it’s that you remind the people you love that you see them. That you appreciate them. That you love them. You may just be saving a life. 

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